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What does a Film Distributor do?

First things first — let’s make sure you understand what a film distributor actually is and what they do.

The film distributor’s job is to make movies available for an audience. This can be through theatrical exhibition, cable VOD (Comcast Xfinity, etc), video on demand streaming (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc), DVD sales or even the internet. 

You can distribute your movie using all of the above methods or which ever you want. 

They will control the bulk of your marketing on the movie you agree to work with them on and in most cases they will handle the global rights and/or territorial rights.

Your distribution contract will have a certain term length and this will determine how long the distributor will control the rights to your film. Normally this is 10-15 years.

How do Film Distributors get paid?

Most distributors ask for a percentage of your movie. For this reason, the assumption is that they will then have a vested interest in your movie being a big hit.

So what’s their percentage versus what you take home in revenue when it’s all said and done? Like most things in any business — it’s negotiable based on who has the most leverage. Typically that’s not the average filmmaker.

The most common distribution deals

There’s three types of distribution deals that happen most often:

1) A percentage of the gross revenues deal – You don’t pay expenses.  20% is normal from what I have heard. 

2) 50/50 Split Deal – This is most common and all costs are taken off the top then both parties split the profits equally. The distributor will normally say you get your half after they recoup the marketing expenses they spent to get your film out there (which rarely gets recouped ever). 

3) Distributor fee deal – it’s where the distributor takes a percentage off the top (average is 25%) then covers his “expenses” and the rest goes to the filmmaker (allegedly) lol…

So which distribution deal is best?

Like all things in life — it depends. Your situation, expectations, budget and if you have investors or partners involved who have a financial steak in the game will determine what’s best for you. 

No deal is set in stone and like any business venture the more leverage you have the better. If you have a strong fan base, social media following, star attached, festival buzz — then you have something to bargain with. If not, then you’re going to end up taking the best thing you are offered.

Do you need a Film Distributor?

If you’re trying to release a movie the traditional way and want a theatrical release? 


Here’s why — the distributor will have money for prints and advertisements aka P&A. This is what will help your film be perceived as a movie. 

The distributor will also have the ability to collect from theater owners across the country. You probably don’t — unless you plan on four-walling from state to state, and even that can be exhaustive and tricky in some respects. 

So unless you have the time and energy to sit in small claims court for all the times you get screwed it’s probably more convenient to just use a distributor. 

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